Exam season strikes again


Panicking about the upcoming exams? Fear not – Ekaterina Tikhoniouk has some practical tips for surviving the season


It’s that time of year again, when the days grow short, the trees on campus lose their golden leaves, and the college libraries slowly but surely fill with anxious-looking students, all vying to use the photocopier at the same time, or running around the stacks in a frenzy, trying to find that elusive, but much-needed book.

The end of autumn marks the start of that dreaded time – that’s right, Semester One exam season has officially begun.

1126740_59012206But it must be noted that exam season panic strikes at different times for each individual: for some this time of peril begins in the middle of week 10 or earlier; for others it starts the day before their first exam.

You know the types, the ‘ah it’s grand, I’ll just pull an all-nighter’ ones…yeah you, listen up! Cramming twelve weeks’ information into your brain in one night might seem possible, but it won’t stay there, unless something else gets pushed out. You could stroll in to that exam knowing the exact dates of every battle in the Franco-Prussian War, but I bet you can’t tie your shoelaces any more.

Let’s face it, we’ve all done the last minute cramming, people who haven’t are either too arrogant or too stupid to care. But no matter how late or how early in the semester you start studying, we can all admit that exam time is a stressful time. Exams not only take a toll on your social life, but also on your health and general wellbeing.

Many students all over the country admit to feeling stressed out and under too much pressure, with some reporting recurring headaches and fatigue, especially over the last few weeks leading up to exams, when there are projects to be handed up, and twelve weeks of lecture doodles to sort through, decipher and learn. Or, you know, download from Blackboard.

Here in UCD, countless students feel that exam stress is more pronounced in the first semester than in the second. Semester One doesn’t even have a mid-term break, which could be used to go over some of the coursework, or even to just catch up on some sleep. According to quite a large number of students, it would be preferable to have a week’s break at Halloween and three at Christmas, instead of spending a whole month lounging around at home over the holidays, eating Mammy’s cooking, putting on weight and watching daytime TV. Not that that’s not brilliant too.

Another issue with exams is the debate that has been simmering for years: that of whether or not exams are the right method for testing a person’s understanding of the curriculum. It has been argued extensively that exams don’t encourage the individual to grasp the coursework. Most modules involve some form of project or essay to be handed up, but there are still many modules where an overwhelming proportion of the marks hinge on the end-of-semester exam.

Another problem is that there are too many subjects to study for, and not nearly enough time to get an in-depth understanding of all of them. Students are bombarded with facts, diagrams, and endless definitions. We are exposed to an enormous pool of information, but rarely are we ever taught how to remember this information correctly. It is entirely possible to learn off definitions, phrases and even whole paragraphs, while at the same time having very little comprehension of what they actually mean. If Leaving Cert Irish taught us anything, it was this nugget of wisdom.

What most pupils and students are not taught is that there are actually two types of studying: shallow learning and deep learning. Yes yes, here comes the science.

As the name implies, shallow learning involves skimming over the meaning of the information, and learning off a series of words to regurgitate in the upcoming exam. Shallow learning is basically saying the item over and over, in the hope that it will be remembered. It’s handy for the aforementioned battle dates, but not much else unless you have background info for all the items on the list.

Deep learning involves more than rote repetition – you must aim to process the information and think deeply about its meaning, and then elaborate on it. This means that the information has a much bigger chance of being stored in your long-term memory. Think of it as an information fantasy if you will, give your different facts characters and traits and behaviour models, then watch them play out during your exam. Just don’t forget to write it down after, otherwise you’re just that weird person who thinks atherosclerosis is akin to Clare County Council workers’ dodgy pothole filling after someone’s been and damaged the road surface. And ok it doesn’t make the road narrower per se, but you have to think in three dimensional terms and…oh just write it down before you fall asleep in the RDS.

Apart from using deep learning when you study, there are many other things you can do to make this exam season a little easier on yourself. The main advice is to start studying now. As well as that, avoid all-nighters at any cost, take short breaks during study sessions, and whatever you do, stay away from that hell-brew called coffee.

Good luck in the exams!